top of page

Podcast: Interview with Immigration Attorney Henry Lim

RJ Hello listeners. This is the Legal Translation Podcast. Today I will be interviewing immigration attorney Henry Lim. Hello Henry and welcome to the show.

HL Hi Reed, thank you very much.

RJ Tell me about yourself, Henry. Where are you from and what led you to practice immigration law?

HL I was born in Nicaragua, which is located in Central America and we moved to the States back in 1980 after escaping a civil war in Nicaragua. Our family underwent many years of struggle with the immigration process and along that way, several legal obstacles occurred, and it motivated me to learn more about immigration law.

So when I went to law school, I dedicated my studies to immigration, and participated in many pro bono projects; the Haitian Refugee Center, the Immigration Advocacy Center, and I'm very excited about it and I'm still very passionate about it eighteen years later. So that's a little bit about the reasons why I find it important to fight for people's dreams. And that's what we do every day. If people want to live in this country, we want to do everything possible to help them achieve those dreams.

RJ Wow! Next question: Why is it important for an immigrant to hire an attorney?

HL Well, immigration law is very complex. It is very important for people to seek proper advice, and what happens too often is that people get trapped into notarios, notaries or paralegals who do not have the legal capacity to offer advice, and every single question on immigration forms has a legal consequence, so the mere fact that helping someone fill out an immigration form can be considered giving legal advice and if one is not properly trained, one can get into some very serious problems.

I always tell people, people always ask me, "Do I need an immigration attorney?" And my answer is always, "No, you don't need one, but should you get one? Absolutely." And another thing that—a misconception with immigration as well, and this is why so many people get into trouble is they think that because it happens to my neighbor, because it happens to this person, that it necessarily has to happen for the next person as well. And immigration law is so complex that one slight variable that people may or may not catch makes all the difference within immigration.

So it's not a matter of just because it happens to one person that it will happen to the next person. And finally, a very serious misconception is that immigration law is simply filling out forms. Immigration law is about strategy, about knowing proper procedure, and how to zealously advocate for your client.

So there are many reasons why someone should hire an immigration attorney, particularly one who is experienced in immigration law. Because we're seeing today far too often the fact that a lot of people all of a sudden claim to be immigration experts or immigration lawyers when they have absolutely no experience or they have limited experience. One of the things about our practice here and the way that I was trained coming out of law school was to be trained in all aspects of immigration law. And what I mean by that is that I practice deportation, I practice citizenship, I practice family based, employment based, investors.

Why do I do this? Because if a client comes to my office, and they present a certain fact pattern, then I will be able to best advise them as to which way to go as far as immigration strategy, whereas if they go to a practitioner who only deals with let's say asylum law, that's the only thing that they know, that's the only thing that they will try to sell to that client. And that may not be the best alternative for that particular client.

So I believe that it is very important that someone go to someone with proper experience, proper knowledge within the field of immigration law. And one of the things that separates us is that is all we do, immigration law at our firm.

RJ I see. So did you study immigration as a separate subject within your legal studies?

HL Within my legal studies, I concentrated, because in law school, you don't necessarily major in a particular field of law. You study all aspects of law. But you do get to select which courses when it comes to electives. And I concentrated my electives around immigration law. I participated in immigration clinics. In my free time, I participated in several different projects relating with immigration interviewing detained people at the Krome detention center.

I went to law school at the University of Miami. And we had the opportunity to participate in certain pro bono programs where we got hands-on field experience. In addition to that, I took every immigration course that was available within the law school. So, that's something that I decided to do while in law school. Because I was interested in it from even before I decided to go to law school.

RJ Sure. I see. Okay. Let's say that you have just a typical Latin American immigrant because that's really what I focus on as a translator and my listeners as well. Someone arrives with or without a visa or permission or whatever. What are the steps from arrival to permanent residence? Generally speaking.

HL Well, that means—we could spend pretty much all day and all week talking about the different possibilities because there again, one of the variables that could determine what we can do for this particular person, you said, well the answer, "with or without a visa." That's a major, major difference, because if you entered with a visa, then there are many things we can do for you. If you entered without a visa, it is going to be very limited as to what we are going to be able to do for you. So, if we go with the route of someone entered with a visa, it depends on what type of visa they entered with, and then we'd go from there.

Change of status is one of the options, we change it perhaps into a student status, they finish school, they get a job, the job decides that they want to hire them and petition for them for their green card. That's one route. Another route would be that they come in and they want to invest in the United States. Depending on what country they're from, they may or may not qualify for certain investor visas. Or they want to transfer or open up a subsidiary here in the United States from a company from abroad. Or they get married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.

The possibilities are numerous for the person who enters with a visa and properly maintain status and so long as they do maintain that status. For the person who enters without inspection, that person will have a much more difficult time under today's laws as to what they can or cannot do, particularly if they're not eligible for what's called a personal waiver. When someone starts accruing unlawful presence in the United States, it becomes a serious problem. When someone enters without inspection, typically what that means that in order for them to finalize their status to get a green card, they are more than likely going to have to go back to their country to obtain that green card.

The problem with that is that if someone stays in this country for more than six months but less than a year out of status, and departs the United States, they subject themselves now to a three-year bar where they are not allowed to come back. And if that person has been undocumented for more than a year, and then leaves the US, then they will be subject to a ten-year bar.

So, let's break that down into plain English and what does that mean? Well that means that the person who enters unlawfully now decides, "well now I have... but if I leave, I have a penalty. Am I really going to leave? [inaudible] because if they leave, they can't come back. If they stay here, they are not going to be able to get their status.

So, this is one of the reasons why we push for so much comprehensive immigration reform, because it's an unintended consequence of this law—this three and ten-year bar—which aims to punish people who entered unlawfully, but at the same time, the unintended consequence is that it's keeping people undocumented here in the US.

RJ I see. It's like a Catch 22

HL Right.

RJ I get it. I've always wondered, I've heard about it a lot in the news... What is your stance on children who arrive on their own from Central American countries?

HL Well, that's a heartbreaking situation. The one thing I don't want to see happen is a continued policy of detention of these unaccompanied minors. We should find ways to reunite them with the closest family members available here in the United States, because some of these detention facilities, and the stories that we've heard from some of these detention facilities are just horrendous. They are escaping some serious, serious crime, and violence from their countries and they should be given at least an opportunity to have their stories heard, if they are able to make it here.

Now, at the same time, we don't want to encourage people from coming over here if it's a fashion because it is very, very dangerous. It is a very difficult situation to manage, because...I'm a parent. I cannot imagine some of the decisions that some of these parents have had to make in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador. The choice is, "I'm going to send my ten-year old child on a journey, by themselves, with strangers, crossing several countries"—so they can have a chance at life. Because, the alternative is, if they stay here, they will either join a gang and be killed, or just be killed for not joining the gang. And, as a parent—I have a ten-year old child—that is a heart-wrenching decision, and it's very, very unfortunate. We should have policies that help these countries combat some of this serious, serious crime occurring in some of these Central American countries.